WISE teaches women to lead in workplace and life

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When trying to land that first job of a successful career, anything putting that recent college grad ahead of the pack can be invaluable.

That’s especially so for young women entering the workforce. It’s been well documented that women are paid less than their equally qualified male counterparts, while also being passed over for promotions and raises.

A program at Manhattan College hopes to fight that trend. Already in its second year, the “Women Inspiring Successful Enterprise” — or WISE — program admits a small cohort of female students, matching them to paid internships at top-notch companies.

“I actually handpick the placements,” said Rachel Cirelli, Manhattan College’s career services development center director. “It makes the magic, but it's also difficult. But it does work well because what I do is I'm interviewing all the companies about what kind of intern they’re looking for.”

Applicants are matched with companies seeking compatible work skills, academic strengths and personality.

Applicants must state what kind of work they want to do during the internship so that Cirelli can find one that fits them best.

“So if one of them was like, ‘Oh, I want to do corporate social responsibility,’ or ‘I want to work at a hedge fund,’ they're getting exactly that,” Cirelli said. “And that's pretty specific, but people want what they want, and I think students are going to work harder when they get the kind of opportunity that they asked for.”

The eight-week paid internships are just part of the program. Every Wednesday, the students gather at Kelly Commons on campus for seminars and workshops about successful workplace leadership skills. They cover topics like salary negotiations, interviewing, and other skills vital to succeeding in a career.

“But then there's all these other things like we learned about, like imposter syndrome,” Cirelli said. “It’s this idea that a lot of women are like, ‘Look at me, I'm the CEO of this company, but my people don't know that. I don't really deserve this job.’”

It’s a common feeling women and people of color have when taking on leadership roles in the workplace, she said. They aren’t less deserving than the men in the office — it’s because society makes them question if they belong in the role.

Learning about imposter syndrome puts a name to a familiar feeling for several participants.

“When I first heard it, I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I know what that is,’” Emily Kate Imparrato said. “I just didn't know there was a term for it.”

This summer, Imparrato interned in the human resources department at American Express. Her project was to design and present an initiative to encourage employees to provide more feedback to their managers, and use that input as part of their overall assessment.

The experience was incredibly rewarding, said the senior finance and management major, and the company treated her with the respect due a full-time employee. But Imparrato also learned human resources wouldn’t be an ideal fit for her.

“The more I worked at American Express, the more I realized that I like working with products and working on a project that has a specific goal that you can achieve,” Imparrato said.

Through WISE, senior accounting major Kelly Hasty learned about her herself and how it doesn’t take a bombastic personality to be an effective leader.

“I think I just kind of owned that I'm not the most talkative person and I think I've just grown more confident in that,” said the senior accounting major. “I think part of leadership is to be comfortable with yourself. Once you're more comfortable with who you are, you're able to do more things that make you step outside your comfort zone.”

Her internship at Fordham Bedford Housing Corp., taught her how to apply what she learned in class to real-world work. She’s more comfortable with the company processes, how a non-profit housing organization operates, and how important diligence is to maintaining accuracy.

“I learned accounting is very tedious and to be careful with your work,” Hasty said. “lt’s really about being very thoughtful about the work, because the smallest things all add up. So you need to be very careful.”

Hands-on experience using specific skills was important to Sierra Arral. Her internship with the Fresh Air Fund marries her love for nature to that of the environment.

The organization sponsors summer camps for inner city youth to spend time in rural areas.

Through WISE, Arral realized women are often pitted against each other in the workplace when instead they should be working together.

“I think it was amazing to realize that all of these women are here to support each other, and that we’re not competing against each other,” said Arral, an economics major at the school. “They’re here in partnership with each other. And that helped me realize the negative side of being told you have to complete your whole life.”

Women outnumber men in universities, Cirelli said. They get high grades, they take on leadership roles, and they have ambitious career goals.

“Women are actually more highly represented, but statistics show us that once you get out 15 or 20 years, the number of women in leadership roles, the disparities are huge,” Cirelli said. “In the past, people would just blame it on women leaving the workforce and having children. But it's really a lot more complicated than that.”

Women who leave jobs to raise a family find it difficult to return to the same level of employment. And even if they stay in a position, they are often overlooked for leadership positions.

Arming the next generation of women empowers them to fight for equality.

“Really the point of this program to help these women step into their own power,” Cirelli said. “Most of us are scared to do it. But when we can identify it and move toward it, the sky's the limit.”

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